Thursday, April 19, 2007

Harry Potter’s magic wand

Went to see Equus last night at the Gielgud, made famous by Daniel Radcliffe flapping his old chap about at the end.

We had “stage seats” – a bold new venture for me. There’s no legroom in the high horseshoe looking down on the performance, and if you even look like you might have food on your person, a stern-looking bloke comes over. So no popcorn.

It’s an odd place to sit, because you can scrutinise the audience as much as the play. Spotted Howard Jacobson in the posher seats, and possibly Julian Fellowes, too. They didn’t wave.

Richard Griffiths, leading and narrating, was good enough to glance over his shoulder from time to time, to include us in events. His was an engaging, gentle performance, playing against the frustrated, ranty man as written.

Griffiths is Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist, whose latest patient is 17 year-old Alan Strang (Radcliffe), who just blinded some horses with a hoof pick. Dysart’s patience and ploys unravel the reasons behind such an abhorrent act. But the more Dysart “cures” the nightmares plaguing the boy, the more he’s envious of his passion, too, and the more he starts to question “normalcy”.

Radcliffe was excellent, and a world from Harry Potter. The girls were pleased to see he’d been working out, too. Well, if you are going to lark about in the all together for the entertainment of a full house of punters, you want to be looking your best.

All the performances were good, and it was expertly staged. Kudos to the chaps playing horses, cantering about in precarious high heels.

Yet the writing is heavy and overly worthy, and very much of its time. Alan’s parents are by turns a self-taught socialist and blinkeredly religious, and it’s difficult to believe they’d stay together. I found the stuff about telly as the opiate of the plebs very dated, too. The women are very underwritten; able and capable and all very lovely, but objects for the men to respond to. Jenny Agutter was all very good, but really had nothing to do.

I think my real beef was that it reminded me of too many other things, most notably Robert Lindner’s excellent The Fifty-Minute Hour (and ooh! Alan C Elms’ brilliant New York Review of Science Fiction article, Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch: Cordwainer Smith & Kirk Allen is now online).

M’colleague B., sat next to me, was more bothered by the idea of psychiatry as only an intellectual process, the cure coming from deductive reasoning alone. And one lady outside the theatre was very annoyed that, “Just because we know why he did it, doesn’t make it okay.”

I spent a little over two hours waiting to be examined myself, today, having finally got around to registering with a doctor. I am a stone overweight, not diabetic and should cut down a bit on my drinking.


Anonymous said...

As someone who, if I'm perfectly honest, doesn't have much time for theatre - a vastly overrated artform - Equus is one of the few plays I've seen (not this production) that really cuts the mustard.

Yet the writing is heavy and overly worthy

You say things like that, Simon, and I start to wonder what the hell Shaffer, or anyone else, would have to do to meet with your approval. Could it simply be that Shaffer wanted to write a different play from the one you wanted to see? If so, the fault is hardly with his writing, is it?

0tralala said...

Equus was at its best and most enthralling when its characters weren't such cliches.

I don't like being brow-beaten, and the play does lay it on pretty thick. Theatre doesn't have to be a lecture. It's not hard work because of the subject matter, it's hard work because of the presentation, which MAKES POINTS when it could just tell the story.

But as I said, I think that's of its time - and maybe stands out now because the institutions it is critiquing don't hold the same power.

It reminded me of the bit in the movie of V For Vendetta when they get in a gag about the Conservative government. It falls as if from a timewarp.

Anonymous said...

Wot, no popcorn! Agutter was probably bored and hungry